DUP defends Arlene Foster's 'astonishing' meetings with senior loyalists
THE DUP has defended its leader's decision to meet loyalist paramilitaries to discuss the implications of a mooted Brexit deal that could see a so-called border in the Irish Sea.
Arlene Foster and other senior party figures are reported to have held talks in recent days with high-ranking figures from the UVF and UDA - including south Belfast's Jackie McDonald.
The meetings follow weekend reports of potential loyalist protests if the Northern Ireland's status in the UK is "diluted" after the UK leaves the EU.
A spokesman for the DUP said: "The party engages with a range of stakeholders about a range of matters on an ongoing basis in the interests of moving Northern Ireland forward."
Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew described reports of the meetings as "astonishing" and claimed the DUP was "living in a parallel universe".
“It is truly astonishing that the DUP are meeting with representatives of loyalist paramilitaries to discuss Brexit rather than listening to the majority who voted to reject Brexit, who want to protect the Good Friday Agreement and who are fearful of a crash-out Brexit," she said.
“Brexit will have serious impacts for the people of the north and the island of Ireland."
Ms Gildernew said recent revelations linking the the DUP to shadowy loyalist group Ulster Resistance made the meetings "all the more concerning".
"I would like to know if the DUP called for loyalist groups to disband and disarm and set aside their campaigns of murder, racketeering, extortion, drug dealing and sectarian threats?," she said.